Tag Archives: Bali

See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact

high key portrait beauty a beautiful overexposed photo

A peculiar vocabulary exists that photographers use to describe photos. “Moody,” “bright and happy,” “cheerful,” and once, I even saw “brooding.”

That the vocabulary exists means that there’s a certain feeling we get from an image. Looking at some of the words we use to talk about imagery we look at suggests that maybe there is something we can do while we’re making images that creates the emotional effect in our audience. If we can do this, we achieve what we always want every time we click that shutter: to create a memorable, impactful image.

Creating an impact with your image begins with the concept you’re after. Rules aside, what do you want your image to make us feel? Often, the conceptualization is where you can distinguish your images from someone else’s.

I’ve written before about creating impact with decisions about color, or by design and composition, or using shadows and light. I’ve also mentioned what I call subjective exposure—an exposure that is made because that’s how I feel rather than following a technical process for getting a correct exposure.

Subjective exposures can be creative, and they involve the heart rather than the head.

If I want to give you a sense of winter in a shot, I’ll use Auto white balance since it produces images that are less warm than say, Cloudy white balance. Then, I might overexpose a lot using exposure compensation in Aperture mode. This is a simple way of creating a high key image, an image that is overexposed but artfully so.

high key portrait beauty a beautiful overexposed photo

Overexposure can work in a photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Some people will say this is bad because you lose a lot of detail in the shot. But what if that was the effect you wanted? What if you wanted beauty to float in a cloud of nothingness?

Similarly, you could underexpose the heck out of an image for effect.

The Balinese make offerings to spirits daily. For those of us who are not Balinese nor scholars of their culture, seeing the intimate act of communing with spirits that live amongst the trees and flowers of Bali feels like a sort of intrusion. But the Balinese make their offerings because they believe it is part of the balance of life. They really don’t mind the photographer with the telephoto lens, especially if you are far away.

undexposed photo of woman in Bali making offering

Mood is created with exposure in this image. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

I underexposed the photo to give it the mystery I felt while documenting the offering this woman was making to the spirits. The underexposure cut out the distracting background, and it also accentuated the light that fell on her face as she prayed.

Sometimes, when you let go of the rules that tell you what a good exposure is, you discover something about making images that create impact. You might make photos that don’t look like everyone else’s.

Now, wouldn’t that be something.

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
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Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes

Mandalay Burma temple silhouettes against a frame.

One of the favorite themes of shooters is the silhouette. Silhouettes are the result of exposing for bright light behind a subject. The camera underexposes anything that is in front of the bright light, resulting in a photo that features a darkened shape—the silhouette.

Silhouettes are one of the creative ways to interpret a scene. With some basic techniques, you can create stunning silhouettes.

1. Look for familiar shapes against a brilliant sky.

 

U Bein Bridge Burma Myanmar sunset

1/350s @ f/6.3 17mm, ISO 125. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This photo is of one of the most recognizable bridges in Burma, the U Bein Bridge. It is a long bridge made of teak wood, and in the evenings, you can see locals cross it, walking their bikes. The sunset was brilliant on this day, so I decided to include a lot of the amazing sky by using a very wide lens. It’s important to wait until the people in your frame are separate shapes, not ‘stuck together’ because they are passing each other, like in the right side of the image where there is a crowd of people watching the sun set. If they are parts of the same shadow, you will get some unrecognizable lumps in your image which are, needless to say, confusing for the audience.

2. Shoot silhouettes in naturally occurring frames.

 

Mandalay Burma temple silhouettes against a frame.

1/1600s @ f/2.8 55mm ISO 400. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you are indoors, you can use doorways and windows to provide back light for your silhouettes, adding a geometric frame to your image. This image in Burma was taken at a temple, and the man and woman who were passing one another looked dynamic framed within the graceful arches of the temple entrance.

3. Stack elements in the image.

 

Inle Lake Burma lightray and temple sillhouette at sunset

1/2000s @ f/11, 200mm ISO 400. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you are faced with a landscape of hills overlapping with some structures in front, like in this sunset photo of a temple on Inle Lake in Burma, you can create an image that has scale. I also waited for some light rays to show up when clouds obscured part of the streams of strong light coming from the setting sun, giving the image added drama. Stacking elements in the image works only if there is a gradation in the silhouetted shapes, or that some shapes are lighter than others, and some are darker. With the different intensities of shadows in the silhouette, the image becomes more dramatic because the gradation adds depth to the photo.

4. Partial silhouettes work, too.

 

Bhutanese archer against a brilliant sky

1/1600s @ f/ 8, 55mm ISO 400. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This partial silhouette of an archer against a brilliant sunset sky in Bhutan is dramatic because even though his identity is obscured by shadow, we see the color of the ribbons of winning archery shots he’s made that day, and the ends of his arrows.

Also notice that I had a low viewpoint. I actually noticed the sky, and then immediately crouched with my camera almost resting on the ground, tilting it at an angle so it would catch the archer and the beautiful sky behind him. Getting a shot from a low angle gives you more brilliant light behind your subject, and makes it easier to create a silhouette.

5. Same principle, opposite effect. Or, breaking the rule.

Most silhouettes are dark shapes against bright light. What if we reversed the exposure and underexposed on the background? The result is that the exposure on the sliver of light on a person can outline them against a very dark background—sort of a reverse silhouette. This is called ‘rim light’ because it traces the rim of a subject.

 

Balinese man smoking black and white rim light

1/5000s @2.8f 170mm, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In this photo, I decided to create a ‘reverse silhouette’ because the rim light and smoke made for an interesting graphic composition. It’s a ridiculously underexposed image, but I like it.

So there you are, four basic techniques for making silhouettes, and one rule breaker. If you’re looking for an outdoor project that you can do for a couple hours after work but will get your creative juices flowing, why not try a silhouette or two this week?

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Let the Shadows Speak
Going to Burma

Shoot Themes When You Travel

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Spice up your travel photography tip # 5: Use themes to shoot your travel stories!

Travel photography is about telling stories about places through your photos. Usually, a photographer travels somewhere and tells the story of the place they are visiting using some common themes, like landscapes, portraits, documentary, night, and wildlife. The variety of images that you can shoot to show what a place is like is as wide as the range of human activity in any country. But how can you avoid shooting the same scene, over and over, only in a different place?

The answer to this question may rest not in the exotic and most far away place you can afford and access. It may not rest in the type of equipment you own and can lug around when you travel. Maybe the answer rests in how you approach the image making.

The way you think about what you are shooting could be the most important set of decisions you could make to spice up your travel photos.

Going out on different days intending to shoot different themes is a way I’ve spiced up my travel photography. While I am open to opportunity and do not let the day’s theme limit what I capture, I try to keep the theme in mind as I walk about, and attempt to tell the story through the theme, throughout the day.

In Vietnam recently, I spent a day photographing how Vietnamese transport things from one place to another.

Vietnam, Hoi An, travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Vietnam Hoi An motorbike travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In Burma, I looked at how the Burmese work.

Burma worker statues Mandalay

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma temple cleaning worker Myanmar

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma worker river boat old car

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

And in Bali, it was a natural choice to look for the Balinese sense of balance.

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Panning technique for travel images, travel photographer, Bali, motion

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Looking for images that follow a theme can be a creative way to look at cultures from a novel perspective. With a bit of forethought, you can spice up your travel photography and maybe even understand a little more about the place and people you’re visiting.

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Keep Your Camera in Motion

Girls on bikes, Hoi An Vietnam.

Spice up your travel photography tip # 3: Learn how to capture motion

If you’re looking to spice up your travel photography, you can keep your camera moving!

I kid you not. Most of us who are new to travel photography or photography might think that the only way to get a good photo is to keep absolutely still when taking it. Yes, this is a general rule. Holding the camera steady when taking a photo is one of the essential skills a developing photographer needs to master. There are even breathing techniques we use to make sure our images come out sharp.

It’s also a general rule that we have to keep our shutter speed inversely proportional to the focal length of our lens to make a sharp photo. That means if your focal length is 50mm, you have to make sure your shutter speed is 1/50s or faster.

These two rules are good to know and keep in mind. But sometimes, you have to break the rules to be creative and have some fun. Here’s how breaking these two rules in photography can help you capture motion  and spice up your travel photos.

Girls on bikes, Hoi An Vietnam.

ISO 125, 1/25s @ 22mm. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Slowing down shutter speed to a value lower than the inverse of your focal length and moving the camera from one side to another can result in images that show motion. Let’s break it down into details of what we have to do to make these kinds of shots.

First, set the camera to Shutter Priority. This is S Mode on a Nikon and Tv mode on a Canon. Then, set ISO to the lowest possible. I used ISO 200 on the Nikon and ISO 100 on the Canon.

Try to shoot motion in the times of day when there is less light, like early morning or late afternoon. Using these techniques when there is a lot of light results in overly overexposed images, which will not work.

 

Bali market, Indonesia

ISO 200, 1/15s @ 24mm. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The shutter speed that can allow us to keep sharp a walking person is at about 1/15s. If your focal length is 24mm, like what I was using for the photo of the man in the Balinese market, this shutter speed is much slower than what I require to take a sharp photo. But what I did to make the man sharp against the moving-like-a-blur market was to focus on him when he was walking initially outside of my frame, and then following him while keeping the shutter release depressed. I pressed the shutter release just as the man walked into the frame I had decided beforehand. This technique blurs the background and everything else but keeps the man sharp, making this photo that captures motion in the bustling market.

This technique of moving the camera from one side to the other is called panning. Panning can also be used for faster objects, such as the people on bikes in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Hoi An Vietnam bicycle banana seller

ISO 100, 1/30s @ 17mm. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Capturing motion is simple and fun, and the resulting images spice up your travel photography. Why not try it today?

Up next: Spice up your travel photography by eating lots of colors, right here on Imagine That!

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
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A Changing Story

1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

A primer on travel photography themes, for my friend Mary, who just got her first dSLR

Travel photography is like a timelapse video, except the subject is always changing. Arriving at a new place, your attention is on overload—look at that! The temptation is to snap everything in sight, gorging the memory card with content. It’s fun to be trigger happy on a trip, but it can also be overwhelming. Even if your goal is to make images for the family slideshow, there are some themes that will help you organize your travel photography so you can more fully tell the story of a trip—a story tipsy with content and composed with beautiful imagery.

Reaching a balance between being open to the unexpected and staying true to your themes can produce a travel photo collection that includes a full range of imagery, a complete account of a changing story.

Night photography

I have a friend who puts away his camera as soon as the sun is sinking. But most cameras made after 2007 have really good ‘vision,’ meaning their sensors are able to ‘see’ in the dark and record clean enough images that can spice up your travel photo montage. So don’t put away your camera just yet when you see the sun setting. You might just get some amazing shots.

1/2000 @ f/11, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

 

30s @ f/22, ISO 125. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Portraits

Photos of people are some of the most interesting and memorable images of a place. It may be a little intimidating, but try taking photos of strangers, and when you do, try to tell their story. It helps to include a detail or two that contextualize the portrait: What are they doing? Who are they with? The charm of a portrait is in its details.

1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

 

1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

 

1/200s @ f/4.5, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Fauna and flora

Animals and flowers are great story bits. I was in Ayuddhya and visited the elephant camp there. As soon as I entered the camp, I spotted a young elephant jogging around the compound, and then caught him when he was tired, plopping down and bathing himself in early morning sun.

1/800s @ f/5.6, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

At another place in tropical Bangkok, there were these lilies all in a row, graceful and delicate in a shallow depth of field at a wide-open aperture.

1/160s @ f/3.2, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Documentary

Images that record events give a depth to travel photography. The story of work, for example, tells a lot about a place. What people value and how they interact with their environment are often revealed when we learn about how they work and live.

1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

When we make travel photos, we also make our memories of that place tangible, a story captured that will withstand the passing of time.

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
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Photography Doesn’t Fix Everything

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

for Jodi

I reread this post, about long term travel not being able to fix everything, over at Legalnomads, and thought, that sounds familiar. Last summer I took two months to travel to Burma and then Bali, thinking I needed to get away for some quiet time. Travel for me is a way to get inside my head and de-clutter; I wrote to Jodi the other day, I travel “to get away from my nine to five when it becomes too loud with worry that I can’t hear myself.”

I go away to listen, to remove the white noise that is other people’s needs, and find the voice that’s mine. I need very little really, to be happy, just a lot of silence and space, time to make photographs and write. But sometimes, I get caught up in work that is separate from my passion; more and more of this dislodges me from myself, and I float, an untethered balloon full of nothingness.

That’s when I want to get away. Being away brings a new reality. It reminds me of very early memories when every thing I learned seemed momentous, bright and shiny things I could gather and hold close to examine.

I’m not a sophisticated traveler. I don’t have the brave body of someone who climbs volcanoes or rides on rooftops of buses. Yes, I’ve been stuck in Europe because of an ashcloud, but hey, I was in Paris. Being stuck in Paris did not make me suffer. True, I was caught in a flashflood in the Philippines, but I was ten or eleven years old; it was an adventure full of floating refrigerators, bamboo rafts afloat above city streets, and ignorance about water born diseases. And yes, I live in Bangkok, the center of several coups d’etat and colorful politics. But last May, the closest I got to the burning of Bangkok was through Twitter apart from the days when the redshirts were still partying at Rachadamnoen. No, I’m not the Indiana Jones type of traveler.

What I do have, though, is a camera. I lug sixteen kilograms of equipment across all sorts of terrain, and I build my travel day around making photos. When I’m with my camera, composing images that tell stories of places, nothing can touch me. Words cease. You could speak a whole dissertation to me and think I am the rudest companion; the act of making an image fills me, engages me beyond any other experience.

This is flow, a state when a person is so engaged in something that time and space seem to disappear.

The problem is, you can’t stay in flow indefinitely. When I return to reality, I realize a few things.

Cold and dusty in Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan.

1.     Not everything is beautiful.

With the camera in front of my face, everything is a matter of design. The chaos of lines can be organized into a composition using other things, like point of view, values of light and dark, framing. As a photographer, I can move and things get a little bit more harmonious in the frame. Not so in life. Moving around a problem, I can’t recompose a better image, I only postpone dealing with a mess. I can’t freeze moments that are beautiful and take them out when things get ugly.

2.     Light doesn’t change the way things are, just the way they look.

If the light is bad one day, I can always pack up and go somewhere else, then go back to the landscape when the light is ‘right.’ But in life, things don’t always look better in the morning light, or at sundown. Sometimes things look the same for days, weeks.

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

3.     You can’t Photoshop it out.

In Photoshop there’s a Clone Tool, and it helps the photographer get rid of distracting spots and other things in the image. You just sample one area of the photo, then click over the area you want gone.  If only it were that easy for the little things that distract us in our lives. Countless times I’ve wished for a clone tool to stamp out the little demands that keep me away from my photography.

The closest I’ve come to complete irresponsibility is traveling, especially alone. I love to wake up earlier than the sun, feel the nip of dawn air as I hurry out to Kusumba to catch the sun rising over the fishing village. There is no schedule, there are only images to make, people to study, expressions to savor through a viewfinder.

4.     You can’t just crop.

Similarly, I can’t just crop. Things in my life crowd into my focal point and want to be in the line of sight. No matter how messy, how utterly unphotogenic something is, life doesn’t have selective framing. Unwanted elements seem to find their way into the experience, and I just have to deal with them.

Holding down the roof with stones, Punakha, Bhutan.

5.     Your batteries run out at some point.

Nothing frustrates a photographer more than being unprepared with extra batteries, and there’re lots of pictures left to make. On very good days, I shoot thousands of photos and have to change the camera battery once or twice (especially with the early digital Nikons, whose batteries lasted less than a thousand shutter clicks when I used a Vibration Reduction lens on them).

I work a lot, seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day. I have to; if I don’t I can’t do this photography thing and the other things I have to do. So I plod along, and most of the time, I get enough sleep and have time to watch a movie or read a book from cover to cover, for pleasure.

Other times, I feel like I’m standing on a barbed wire fence, looking out over a vague landscape, and although my hands hurt from clinging to the barbed wire, I can’t let go or I’ll fall off.

Hanging on a barbed wire fence, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

It’s not that I’m into self-inflicted pain though others would argue; I just have obligations to fulfill, and I also have a passion that feeds my soul. I cannot run out of batteries, because I must always find strength for one or the other.

When I wrote to Jodi the other day, I said, “the Balinese are so talented at balance, and that was something you needed, and something I craved. So here you are again, ready for more surprises. I hope the basket stays on the head, even when you’re dancing.”

Maybe I was also talking to myself.

 

 

 

Beginner’s Guide to Light

Sunrise and mist, Bhutan.

At some point in their journey, people with cameras begin to photograph light instead of “look what I saw.” Light is the main ingredient in the mix of elements that make an image. Content, composition, technique will all pale if the light isn’t “right.” But is there a “right” light? Here are some common lighting situations that could help you create compelling shots. Practice looking for them, and you will see your images increase their wow factor.

Back light

Dancer with rim light, Bali.

Back light is when the light source is behind the subject. This means that it is directly in front of the camera, with the subject in between. The photo of the dancer sitting was lit with two windows behind him, lighting him like a halo around his head and body. This line of light around a subject is called “rim light,” as it creates a rim of light outlining the subject. To shoot this kind of shot, I had to use exposure compensation, overexposing to making sure I had a balance between the bright light I wanted to capture, and the man’s features.

Backlit spools of thread at a weaver's shop in Burma.

In cases of really bright light behind the subject, like in this shot of colorful spools of thread in by a window, the patterns created by the light and shadow make for an interesting picture.

Front light

When the light is right in front of the subject, it is easier photograph, but if the light is directly in front of the subject, it may result in a ‘flat’ photo. ‘Flat’ lighting is light that evenly spreads on the subject. I try to avoid this because it makes a photo look two-dimensional; it is the shadows in a photo that create a three-dimensional effect.

Dancers putting on makeup, Bali.

In the photo of the dancers putting on makeup, their light source is directly in front of their faces. I could have taken the shot with the light behind me, but I broke away from that and instead focused on the mirror one of the dancers was holding. My thinking was, the composition was more interesting with the dancers echoing each other’s postures. But most importantly, the light from the window was reflected on their faces into the mirror, and the mirror’s image was thus well lit for my camera to capture.

Top light

Light from above of course is quite common. When you travel, mostly the sun is your light source, and most of the day the sun is right above your subjects. So it’s important to know how the light from above will affect your images, and what you can do to minimize the shadows that the sun from above will invariably create in your subjects.

Early mornings and late afternoons are great because the sunlight is more orange; the angle of the light is also more from the side, especially at sunrise and sunset. But also in the hours right after sunrise and the hours just before sunset, the light is not as harsh as in midday.

Man asleep in his ox cart at midday, Burma.

Having said that, though, one of my favorite shots from Burma was taken at around 11 am. This man was sleeping in his cart while his oxen were grazing. The shadows were harsh, but it worked because the content of the photo made for a good contrast. To get this shot, I had to close my aperture to f8 and used exposure compensation to get details in the sky and the immediate subjects in front of me.

When there is harsh light, like in midday, I look for subjects who are under a sort of shelter. When there is a covering above the subject, the harsh light does not create equally harsh shadows on their faces.

Girl in pink hat, Burma.

Shan woman at a temple, Burma.

Both the photos of the woman in the turban and the little girl in the pink hat were made around midday, but both were under a kind of shelter–the temple roof for the turbaned woman and her pink hat for the little girl.

Side light

This is my all-time favorite kind of light. Side light is light coming from the left or right of the subject. It was used by the masters of painting–Rembrandt used side light in his paintings to give the picture a three dimensional effect. When the light falls on one side of the subject, the other side is in shadow. The shadows are what give the picture a 3D look.

Monk at old wooden temple, Burma.

The monk walking past old wooden doors shows how shadow and light can create the contours that make the subject seem three-dimensional.

Sunrise and mist, Bhutan.

In the early morning shot of a misty scene in Bhutan, the side lighting created by the sunrise gives us a sense of the overlapping hills and the thickness of the mist.

Like every skill, seeing the light–its direction and quality–takes practice. But with some basic knowledge of lighting situations, any person with a camera can practice the right skill and do what photographers do: capture the light, and make it look fantastic.

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Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Photo Equipment Part 2: What’s in the Bag

Loading boats at Kusumba, Bali. Photo (c) Aloha Lavina.

Some people take photos because they travel.

I travel so I can take photos.

One of the very first times I traveled with equipment, I brought more than I needed, or I brought the wrong lens, or I ran out of storage and had to shoot Inle Lake in Myanmar with basic JPG (which is not entirely a bad thing, but shooting RAW would have been better).

As I traveled more, I learned which equipment works for me, and now I often pack only what is really essential on a photography trip.

Most of my trips last three weeks at most, and the trips I like are the ones where I am constantly on the move. Arrive in Delhi at 9 pm, get into a car at 10 after customs, drive for 9 hours to Bikaner, and shoot all day. That sort of thing. So I do not want a lot of equipment that will be cumbersome or too heavy and prevent me from moving a lot.

THE CAMERA

Loading boats at Kusumba, Bali. Photo (c) Aloha Lavina.

2007 was the year when I first racked up more than 80,000 miles traveling with my camera, so that was when I found out what I needed. Bare essentials for me on a trip are one DSLR, a wide lens such as the very affordable Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5-5.6, a middle lens which stays on the camera as the default lens, which for the Nikon D3 is the 24-70mm f/2.8 NANO Nikkor, and a long lens, my favorite being the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8. These zoom lenses are fast lenses with the widest aperture zooms come in. I find that using these fast zooms gives me a lot of confidence that while on the move, I am able to get images that are sharp and bursting with color, the way I like my images.

Just last December I was offered an assignment and a sponsorship by Canon, and they sent me a 60D, a new prosumer model with video, and the flexible 18-200mm f/3.5 lens. I found that Canon really produces a blue sky, and that the combination of the camera body and lens were lightweight (great because the trip had a lot of trekking) and flexible. The lens covered all the subjects I needed to shoot—closeup portraits, environmental portraits, landscapes, still life, low light detail, and action shots of black necked cranes and vultures swooping around flapping prayer flags.

ACCESSORIES

I also have the following in my bag:

  • Spare batteries – the new batteries these days boast longer life, up to 1500 shots. For the D3 I find the batteries do last around that long, and that is usually what I shoot on a really good day.
  • Memory cards – I bring up to 48 GB of memory on a weeklong trip because I am a trigger happy girl and can usually fill up to 16 GB easily in a day, shooting RAW.
  • Storage viewer – I bring the EPSON P-5000 or the P-7000 on my travels. The P-5000 has 80 GB of storage and the P-7000 has 160GB of storage.

    The EPSON P-7000 has a 4 inch screen for viewing photos and stores up to 160GB.

    They both have a 4” LCD screen for viewing photos in common camera formats (RAW for both Nikon and Canon, as well as TIFF and JPG). I use this device to back up and store my images and free up the memory cards for the next day. Also, at night I spend time editing my photos, deleting photos that obviously do not work, marking the ones I really like. The EPSON allows you to “star” your favorites) and saving them into a separate folder called “Favorites” to help me get started with processing when I return from the trip).

  • Cleaning equipment – I have a great blower brush and microfiber cloth, and I use them often. When I am indoors, say for lunch or a coffee break, I’ll often clean the camera and lenses I have used so far, before heading out again for more image hunting.
  • Filters – I attach a UV filter to every lens. More than something that will affect my color or image, the UV lens is basically to protect the lens glass. I also bring a polarizing filter (sometimes).
  • Lens hoods – all Nikon lenses come with a lens hood, and I absolutely make it a point to use them. Not only do they block out unwanted light, they also protect the lens from bumps especially in crowded areas.
  • Tripod – I have a Chinese made Benro tripod that I use in places where I might take some landscape shots or long exposures. If the trip is long enough and I do not have a deadline for portraits, I bring the tripod. On most of my trips though, I have to confess, the shots are all captured handheld.
  • A couple of pens and a small notebook – writing equipment is always part of my camera bag. You never know when an image brings with it a story that uses words.

POSTPROCESSING EQUIPMENT

For trips where I have to edit and process photos before returning home, I bring the 15” Macbook pro. I prefer Apple products because they are intuitive to use, and I do not have to calibrate the screen too often.

For post-processing work that I do at home, I use a 27” iMac with 8GB RAM. I need it especially to prepare files that are really really big, like billboards.

I use Adobe Lightroom 3.3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5 to prepare my images for publication. I sometimes use Adobe Illustrator to prepare files for print publications which specify this file requirement.

For storage, I use three different external drives as backups which I clean every year. Clients’ photos in the original RAW format are kept in the external hard drive for a year, and then I delete them and only keep the ones I use for my portfolio.

THE WISHLIST

All things considered, I am pretty happy with the equipment I have, for the work that I do. However, if I had the some dispensable cash to invest in more equipment, I would probably go for the following juicy bits.

1.     14mm f/2.8 lens – this lens is great for tight spaces—markets, temples, festivals. It’s fast and it’s wide enough for travel and street photography.

2.     Macbook 15” i7 core –at the moment I can only run CS4 on my Macbook Pro which is two generations older. With this new, faster MBP, Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 could run without the issue of overheating.

Eating Bali

Babi Guling, a delicacy in Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Being an expat in Bangkok, I’ve been spoiled by the myriad of food choices and been a closet #bkkfatty for a long time (the Twitter hashtag to check out for scrumptious foods to be found on the street or in one of the thousands of restaurants Bangkok is almost famous for, and also a Twitter account with the same recommendations).

So when I spent some days in Bali, Indonesia, I had a hard time with restaurants. Don’t get me wrong; I am sure there are scores of great restaurants in Bali. Just not in Ubud.

My first meal in Ubud was lunch at the Laughing Monkey restaurant on Monkey Forest Road. I have to confess, I was only looking for a cup of hot Balinese coffee, that thick and strong coffee that a coffee lover must order on the island. But I was hungry too, so I ordered cap cay, a stir fried mixed vegetables with chicken dish that goes on top of plain steamed rice. The cap cay was passable, as I was hungry. But the cap cay is hardly a foodie’s adventure, if you know what I mean. So later that day, I ambled down the same road and found the Barbekyu, a restaurant that I have to confess attracted me with its interesting spelling.

And repelled me with its watery curry. People say, when traveling, eat the local food, right? So yeah, there I was being a good little traveler and ordering the Indonesian chicken curry. (How can you go wrong with the interesting spelling and curry?)

The Indonesian chicken curry at Barbekyu puts Ubud to shame. It’s watery curry has absolutely no oomph at all—no spice, and the best thing about the curry I ordered was the boiled eggs. At least they tasted like…real eggs.

So the following day, I resolved to eat only street food.

A Barong dancer at Bona Temple, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

My friend and I spent the afternoon in Bona, a village that was having a festival at the temple. We hung around the temple, played with the kids, took some photos of the legung and the barong dances. Across the temple at Bona was this food stall. All it sold was nasi campur which means “everything mixed with rice.” There were some sautéed pork and chicken in there, slow cooked in a heavenly sauce, with a hint of bay leaves and raw black pepper corns. The meat sauce was literally poured all over the rice and wrapped in paper, tied together with a rubber band. I borrowed a spoon from my hotel and ate the nasi campur from across the Bona temple, while the moon rose over Bali.

Needless to say, I was spoiled after that. No more Barbekyu restaurant and watery curry! Street food rules. Every day after a whole day of romping around the island taking pictures, my good friend Rai and I would visit a street stall and get some takeaway.

My favorites and recommendations:

1.     Bona temple street stall – see above.

2.     Merta Sari is a specialty restaurant near Kusumba, a fishing town. Fish satay barbecued over fragrant wood coal with sambal, a spice side dish made of chopped onion and chili, and chopped green beans sautéed in coconut shavings. All served with steamed rice. A warning though, for mouths unaccustomed to the Southeast Asian chili, which is a tiny chili packing a potent whipping, it’s better to use the sambal to dip your satay in instead of spooning it over rice like chili veterans do.

3.     At Gianyar, on Jalan Raya Teges, there is a night market that is mostly food stalls which opens around 4.30 or 5 pm. The best stall there is Ibu Oka, which only sells babi guling, the variation of nasi campur with pieces of roasted pork, including the crispy skin.

Babi Guling, a delicacy in Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

4.     Lotus Lane is a restaurant on Ubud, and I went back to it because it was the only place I remembered from my trip two years ago. I had the cheese pizza. (One can only eat nasi campur so many times.)

Memory served me well, because Lotus Lane is the only restaurant on Ubud I’ve visited that can make both pizza and Indonesian local dishes well. And the ambiance is super, too. There is a long rectangular pond with lotus blossoms flanking the entire length of the restaurant, and they use dim lamps. The service is friendly, the friendliest and most genuinely happy service folks I met in Ubud. I was sitting near the back and heard the cooks singing in the kitchen. I went back for three meals.

5.     At the end of Monkey Forest Road, near a gas station, there is a hole in the wall place painted lime green. You can’t miss it. It’s a favorite local lunch

Merta Sari with the lime green walls. Photo by Agosti Ngurah Rai using the iPhone.

destination, and like the temple stall in Bona, it only serves one thing. So you come in, sit down at the picnic type tables, and out comes the best nasi campur ayam (everything and chicken mixed with rice) in all of Ubud. If you miss out on all the other places I mentioned above, this place is the one you can’t miss. They only open for lunch, and it’s always busy, so I would recommend going around 11 am to beat the regulars.

One more note: I did read Lonely Planet’s recommended restaurants and suggest you do too. I also went to eat at the Wayan Café. I think everyone knows the Wayan Café now after Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned it in “Eat Pray Love” the famous memoir everyone should read, which ends in Bali.

When I was new to Bali, I went to the Wayan Café and went “WOW!” The atmosphere is fantastic at Wayan Café. The tables are set in little corners surrounded by foliage, and sitting at a table, you always feel like you’re alone on a tropical paradise island like the hype describes. It’s a really great initiation if you’re new to Asian food places. AND they are so friendly.

This time, I am sad to say, my fourth time in Bali, Wayan Café no longer wowed me. Yes, the service is still pretty friendly and the atmosphere is still romantic and all that. But the nasi campur ayam is dry, Lord, is it dry. Like chewing on cardboard. I ate the sambal and two bites of rice and drained my blended mango juice, paid and left. And I made a note never to go back.

You see, once you eat like the Balinese do, your palate will never be a clueless tourist in Bali, ever again.

____________

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:

Su Mon in the City – a Closeup of Life in Yangon
The Umbrella Story
An Unkindness of Ravens
The Good, the Bugs, and the Ugly
That Beautiful Longing

Is RTW right for you?

Peekaboo, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Sometimes when I completely fall in love with a place, I want to stay indefinitely.

Standing in the Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam, my senses are overwhelmed by the colors.  My camera is on overdrive. I am in heaven.

But I spend exactly one day in Bac Ha, leave the North of Vietnam, fly back to Hanoi then Bangkok, bringing back some images and the intention of going back.

Black Hmong tribeswoman at Bac Ha. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

I’ve only been to Luang Prabang a total of five days. My first time in Bali, I spent five days there. First time in Myanmar, seven days. The Rajasthan in India, a week. But each time, I was able to bring back some wonderful images and a sense of the place. I didn’t have to stay indefinitely.

I know people who quit their jobs and became travelers full time. One of the most famous of these is Jodi, also known as Legalnomads. Another is Matt, known to everyone as NomadicMatt. They both quit corporate type jobs to do RTWs, or round-the-world trips. There are a lot of full-time RTW travelers: on Twitter alone, @solotraveler, @BKKMichael, and even an entire family, @GotPassport, who have sold everything they owned and relocated to Chiang Mai, Thailand just over three weeks ago.

Sometimes, when I completely fall in love with a place, which happened in Burma last month, I wish for a moment I too could just make like Gaugin and run back to the place I was from the place I am.

But is RTW the right answer for everyone? Does short travel make you less of a traveler? I’ve thought about these questions a lot lately. Here are some thoughts.

1. Short travel is OK if you are already an expat.

I’ve lived in Thailand and other countries. I haven’t been in what most people would consider “home,” really, since I was sixteen years old. Wherever I am at present is “home” to me. So I am a full-time expat. What I love about being an expat in Bangkok is that I am able to use all the conveniences I would have back home, and (seriously) there is a direct flight to five continents from this city. So when I have the time, I can fly somewhere with my camera and notebook, and then fly back home. In 2007, for instance, my busiest year thus far, I flew 47 different times to 17 different places and was back on Monday for my full time job.

Faceless portrait, Luang Prabang. Photo by Aloha Lavina

2. You have a job you love.

The people I know who quit their job to travel did not really enjoy what they did as much as they enjoyed travel. Shamelessly, I can talk about my profession for a whole day and never tire. I teach high school English and design curriculum, and I love it. I love the possibility that is in each life of each child I teach; I love the light that happens in their eyes when they understand something, when they learn. And I love that at the end of the school year, I am able to look back and appreciate that my hard work has made someone love learning.

I thought about quitting teaching to engage in my other job, freelance commercial photographer and journalist. But in all these years of being busy both Monday to Friday with school and Saturdays and evenings with photography and writing, I honestly cannot say I would be happy without either. So I am both.

Arm akimbo in Rajasthan. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

3. Your travel needs you to lug heavy equipment around.

I travel so I can create images. The lightest equipment I take somewhere includes a DSLR, at least two lenses, four camera batteries, a storage viewer which can hold up to 160 GB of photos, a notebook (paper based tool I can carry in my pocket to record snatches of thought).

Girl with offering, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

I also budget my reading when I travel, because when it’s too dark to take photos, I usually don’t ‘go out’ in the conventional sense, so I read. On a recent eight-day trip to Bali, I read the three books I brought in five days, and I had to buy Eat Pray Love and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest for the three days left plus the plane ride.

And, sometimes I have to carry a tripod and a laptop.

If I had to lug this equipment around on my back for a whole year on an RTW, I think one of a few things would happen:

3a. I will run out of storage space for new photos. On an average day on a photo trip, from pre-sunrise to sundown, I take around 24 GB of photos. Do the math—even if I delete the mediocre ones nightly, I would still end up with at least some 12 GB of photos a day. That makes 160 GB last for an average of 13.33 days, nowhere close to a year. Of course, I could bring more than one storage device, thereby sentencing myself to a lifetime of back problems. (All this equipment on my back every day weighs 16 kilograms which I carry while chasing images.) 3b. I will spend lots of money on books. 3c. All of the above.

4. Budgets are easier to handle.

I generally like nicer hotels. And because I often travel more than 200 kilometers a day from the sunrise location to the sunset, I have to hire a car. When traveling, a nice room and a reliable car often are my two biggest expenses.

5. Every day is full of action.

Tom Swick of World Hum wrote that traveling is “creative hanging around.” For me, that doesn’t mean sitting. As a rule, I am constantly in motion when I travel. On my feet at a location, I can explore ways to make better images than if I sit somewhere and wait for a shot to walk by.

Of course, I also do hang around. I have to make friends before I make photos—that’s another of my rules. So a lot of time is spent socializing with the

Peekaboo, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

locals, eating with them, visiting their families, and a lot of time is spent working with the camera. The rest of the time is slow eating and sipping good coffee while writing down my thoughts. Days and days of this, then I go home and process both the photos and my thoughts.

I like being able to live episodically when I travel. It demands that I pay attention to the present, every single minute of every single day.

And it works for me. How about you? Is RTW right for you?

____________

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:

Su Mon in the City – a Closeup of Life in Yangon
The Umbrella Story
An Unkindness of Ravens
The Good, the Bugs, and the Ugly
That Beautiful Longing
What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

"Monsoon Jazz" by Aloha Lavina.

“What’s in a name?” says Juliet to the night sky, in the famous balcony scene of Shakespeare’s play.

I bet she did not know about a baby girl who was so fat that when she sat in lotus position on her grandfather’s lap, folds of  her flesh hung in layers, so he affectionately nicknamed her “Buddha.”

I’ve had a lot more nicknames since then. In 1992, befriended by a couple, a tall, lanky girl from Alabama and her Welsh husband, I was called “Little Bit.” Sitting on their porch in the sleepy Thai town of Minburi, we had actual fried green tomatoes and sips of julep, telling stories, and my friend would drawl in lovely Southern notes, “You’re a funny one, Little Bit. Small, but big on personality.”

In 1994, in the beautiful Berkshires, I painted Melanie’s house with her daughter Alison before taking a three-week train trip across the United States. Sitting in Mel’s kitchen the night before I left, Mel asked me, “What’s the attraction for you with this train trip? Why not stay in Boston with Ali to watch the World Cup match with Colombia?”

“If I had a car,” I told her, “I would have driven cross country. This way is less responsibility,” was my way of telling her I wanted to be in motion. I had an open ended pass for Amtrak; I could stop anywhere and get on again after an indeterminate time; it was at that time, the most liberating travel I knew.

“Well then, you vagabond urchin, you,” Mel gives me the nickname which she calls me to this day,” you’ll have to come back to the Berks sometime after you roam the rest of the world.”

Roaming the world since then, I’ve met a girl named Beer in Bangkok. Her father, she said, loved Carlsberg at the time she was born. “At least I wasn’t named Carlsberg,” Beer said matter-of-factly. The Thai tendency to give nicknames to their children stems from a value. Many Thai names are too long, and calling someone their nickname is more saduak, more convenient.

Names we give our children can tell us what we value. I once met an entire family whose names were golf related. The first born was Birdie, whose younger brother was Par, and whose littlest brother was named Eagle. Their dad loved golf. I’ve also met a lot of Tops, some Firsts, and two guys named Army and Navy. Once I taught a student whose name was Nok, who was so shy she flapped her arms in nervousness. Nok, in Thai, means bird. (She later on became a pilot, but that is entirely another story.)

In Bali, I met six different Wayans. Wayan is a name given to a firstborn baby. The second baby is named Made, the third Nyoman, and the fourth Ketut. Then there’s the caste reference in the names. “I Gusti” refers to the nobility, so my friend named “I Gusti Ngurah Rai” belongs to the landed caste Wesya, is a “gift from heaven,” whose personal name is Rai.

 

But in Myanmar, names are forever. “We don’t change our names after marriage,” Su Mon tells me. Her name tells me she is born on a Tuesday, since all Tuesday babies have names beginning with S. But no, she says, she was born on a Thursday, which would have meant being named something that begins with P, B, or M. Except the astrologer said no.

“We Burmese consult an astrologer when we have to name a baby,” explains Su Mon. “He tells us the most auspicious name for a baby for his or her birth.”

“But your names are forever,” I repeat the awesome fact.

“Yes,” Su Mon says, smiling, “Burmese names are forever.”

Except of course, in 1988 the military government changed the name of the country without any input from anyone else: from Burma to Myanmar. And many towns had their names changed, too. Moulmein to Mawlamyine. Poor Rangoon became Yangon, and then lost its capital status to Nyapidaw in 2006.

It’s in Burma when I realize that what’s in a name could change with spelling, be meaningful with an intention, or even be eternal, tied to the stars.

When it rains in Rangoon, I feel the Burmese nostalgia as my own, thinking about names. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, another Tuesday baby, wrote in her Letters from Burma, “The word monsoon has always sounded beautiful to me, possibly because we Burmese, who are rather inclined to indulge in nostalgia, think of the rainy season as the most romantic.”

“Monsoon Jazz” by Aloha Lavina.

I remember the romance of rain. South Korea, 1990. The winter Bush, Sr. took soldiers to Iraq. The winter the Bengals won the Super Bowl.

That day in the winter of 1990, I walked from the Hyatt Café where I had been writing all night (endless coffee refills and silence), and Seoul Tower at the top of Namsan was still ablaze. Suddenly, the lights went off. It was almost morning, but the street sweepers weren’t out yet. The men and women in the street market in Haebangchon were quietly setting up. An adushi, an uncle in traditional Korean clothes sat sipping a hot cup of barley tea from the vending machine on the corner and squinted at me through the steam rising out of his cup. Every Sunday I bought a whole roast chicken from him, so I could make roast chicken ceasar salad, my favorite, at home. He taught me a lot of Korean words. For instance, because I always wore black, he called me “Woo Shim,” which is a Korean name meaning “rain heart.”

It began to rain when I reached my apartment, and I was happy, sleepless and simply happy, sitting surrounded by sheets of birthed words. Outside, the sky was calling my name.
________________

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:

Su Mon in the City – a Closeup of Life in Yangon
The Umbrella Story
An Unkindness of Ravens
The Good, the Bugs, and the Ugly
That Beautiful Longing

Backstage at Uluwatu

A lot of joking around goes on backstage. What I enjoy about the Kecak at Uluwatu is the playfulness of the dancers and their enjoyment of what they do.

Photos by Aloha Lavina

From a sleepy rice farming community, the village of Uluwatu has transformed itself into prosperity thanks to Kecak, a chanting musical featuring familiar characters from the Ramayana. Because it’s such an exciting, beautiful show, I’ve gone three times in as many trips to Bali. For 70,000 Rupiah, you can catch this show daily at Uluwatu, around 1.5 hours from Ubud and half an hour from Denpasar.

Here are some shots from backstage.

Rama puts on her makeup. The dancers begin makeup an hour before performance.

A couple of groups dance at Uluwatu. Each dancer 'works' three days a week and keeps their day jobs, mostly hotel or restaurant related.

Rama, the graceful principal character in the Ramayana, is played by a woman to denote his grace and youthfulness.

Sita is Rama's lady in the Ramayana.

Uluwatu is a temple first, and a dance venue second. Dancers pray and are blessed by a holy man before every performance. Pictured is the woman who plays Lakshamana, Rama's brother.

A lot of joking around goes on backstage. What I enjoy about the Kecak at Uluwatu is the playfulness of the dancers and their enjoyment of what they do.

The Good, the Bugs, and the Ugly

Tropical flowers in a bowl of aromatic oil, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina

A Little Romp Through Some Travel Stereotypes

At four-thirty in the morning, it’s pretty noticeable when someone is yelling or talking unnaturally fast.

My brain cells have hardly woken up, standing in line at Passport Control at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok. The blonde woman in the red Billabong sweater, the one whose departure card and AirAsia e-ticket looked like they had spent six weeks buried in a shove-it-in backpack, whose shoelaces are untied and trailing on the marble floor, is in front of me again.

Behind me, a brunette lady speaking French is yelling across to her dark blonde friend in the other line parallel to us. Back and forth they yell in a lively, fast conversation.

At this hour, I would rather they didn’t yell so much. My neurons protest to the volume; it’s too early for conversational cha-cha. I wish they would just shut up.

The dark blonde in the other line has now joined our faster line, still talking at high speed to the brunette. My neurons have now taken up a chant, Please be quieter, please be quieter, some of us are still asleep.

THUD. A shriek, “No!” I turn to see the brunette has fallen like a felled tree, hitting the hard floor with her head. Dark blonde is frantically saying, “No, someone please help! A doctor!”

The blonde in the red sweater rushes to the floor beside the brunette. Checks her carotid. “She’s not breathing!” she reports, glancing at the people who have now crowded around. “I’m a doctor,” she says to the dark blonde friend, who is now slumped on the floor, caressing her friend’s face, repeatedly saying, “No, Nancy, no!”

An immigration officer runs to the phone, calls for help. From where I am now frozen in shock, I spy her toes with the nails painted a bright turquoise, turning blue.

Another immigration officer leaves his desk, comes over to look, says in Thai, “we called the medic.” I translate for everyone’s benefit, relieved at least I can help in some way and don’t feel quite so useless.

Blood trickles out of the brunette’s mouth. She is fast losing color. Her body shakes in tiny tremors; her hands turn to claws in an epileptic fit. The blonde doctor turns her over on her side, positions her arms on her belly. A gasp, and she begins to breathe again. All of us standing there breathe collective relief.

The medical team finally arrives. It’s been a long eight minutes. The medics take care of the fallen woman, hooking her up to an EKG machine, taking her blood pressure.

The immigration officers herd us onto another line, away from the crowd trying to help the woman. I am behind some twenty people now, a tourist couple in front of me.

The woman says to the man, “Just like Amazing Race.” He says something I can’t quite catch in reply, to which the woman says, “Too much LSD on the way in.” She’s smiling.

In the pre-departure lounge, I settle into writing down what happened in my iPhone—something concrete to do, to stave off the feelings of guilt and shock. Did I really misjudge the blonde doctor in the red sweater, calling her disorganized in my head? Did I really wish the brunette would just shut up? Sometimes, you can really learn a lot traveling by yourself, if you’re paying attention. And what did the woman in the line mean with her comment about LSD? Are drugs really that big of a feature in travelers’ lives in Thailand? My neurons are definitely awake now, chewing on these questions.

“Excuse me sir,” I hear. I turn to see an AirAsia staff approaching an older man in bright yellow pants wheeling a carry on bag that clearly looks to be over the size limit. Yellow pants stops. “What?” he demands. His tone implies he is annoyed and should not be bothered.

“Your bag,” the staff says, “it’s oversized.”

Yellow pants leans over the shorter man, barks, “And what do you want me to do about it? I’m already here.” He spins away, dismissing the airline staff. And the airline staff just cowers away with his tail between his legs.

On the seat she’s just found, Yellow Pants’ female companion looks around at the rest of us in the lounge.

Tropical flowers in a bowl of aromatic oil, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina

Will this day get any better, I wonder.

On the flight I’m all right, but I can’t sleep. Usually I love sleeping on planes. Before takeoff, when the engines are humming, is the best time to clip on the belt, slouch down in the seat, and doze off. But this morning, understandably, my neurons are rebelling from my usual pre-flight standard procedure.

Plus there are five young backpackers sitting in the row in front of me. They’re all trading notes in Swedish, listening to their iPods and switching and sharing songs.

I lose myself in Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw” for three and a half hours. At least reading, I can shut off the rest of the plane.

Arriving in Denpasar, I get the usual 30-day visitor’s visa and am ready to float through customs. I purposefully flew AirAsia because it forces me to pack light. I have a few clothes, three books, the lightest camera equipment I own, and the thinnest Macbook available on the market right now. Everything in total weighs 20.4 kilos, and I am not and have never been in the habit of carrying any gold or contraband since I started air travel at the age of seven, so I don’t expect being stopped by Customs.

The Swedish backpackers and the woman whose shoelaces are untied float through, but I, with my five thousand dollar watch from Stockholm and three hundred dollar shirt from Milan (I always wear expensive stuff when I travel alone because I have the mistaken idea that it prevents me from being harassed, especially in Asia), have to open my bag and get it scanned. “Chemical scan,” the Customs officer informs me.

I don’t know if it’s my Sinead O’Connor haircut or my mixed Chinese-Malay-Spanish features, or that I am arriving from Thailand, location for famous drug-saturated books as “The

Cover of "The Backpacker" by Harris, a drug-saturated book set in Thailand. Photo from Summersdale publishers.

Beach” and “The Backpacker” that makes me suspect as either (a) drug courier or (b) bomb conduit or (c) random victim, but I wait patiently while the computer says I am (d) none of the above. “Clean!” the Customs officer announces, gesturing for me to lock my bag back up.

In the meantime, I count, seventeen backpackers pass us by.

Finally, I have arrived. It’s only 11.30 am in Bali. My friend Ngurah meets me, recognizing me despite of the new hairless do, and we speed off to Ubud, my favorite place to stay.

At the Fibra Inn, I have the “Deluxe Room.” Happily the receptionist shows me my room, which has a bathroom that’s al fresco. Tropical plants surround the stones forming the floor of a shower area. I get to pee under the blue skies of Bali. Wowwee.

The only rule I have for staying at cheap hotels is that I must be able to touch the bathroom walls. If I can touch the walls without feeling icky, the place is clean enough to sleep in after I spend the whole day outdoors.

My first outdoor shower! There’s no soap! But I take it in stride—after all what could happen now? Everything bad happened this morning and it’s a glorious day and I have an al fresco bathroom, and the hand soap provided is just fine.

I reach for the shower head so I can rinse and feel a piercing bite on my left palm. “Arrrgh!” (So people do say this when in sudden pain, says the metacognitive nerd inside my head.) I shake my hand as soon as I feel the sting, and a wasp, around an inch long from head to thorax, falls to the floor. “That hurt, you asshole,” I say to it, just before I squash it dead under my Hawaiian floral patterned rubber sandals.

Then I turn the shower on it with a vengeance, thereby flushing it down the drain into the void of bathwater, forever.

My hand hurt, and when I tell Ngurah about it, he says, “You should have eaten it.”

“…?”

“My father,” he says, “got bitten by a snake once. He killed it, then he roasted it over a coal fire and ate it.”

“I flushed it down the drain,” I say, then being a long-time resident of a Buddhist culture, I add for political correctness or defensiveness or both, “I wanted to hurt it. So I killed it.”

And Ngurah says, “That’s OK. He did it to you first.”

Shower in the Deluxe room of Fibra Inn, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha's iPhone.

Later that night, as I finish peeing under Balinese stars, I spy a spider—gray, hairy, leg to leg diameter around 1.5 inches—scramble out of the shower onto the wall beside my toilet.

“Behave,” I tell him, “or I, the insect crusher of Ubud, will strike again.” I rub my left palm, where the wasp bite still throbs.

The spider runs somewhere, and in the splotchy darkness I cannot see him.

Later under my mosquito net, snug with a book, I think I see a shadow cross my peripheral vision. Turning to the wall beside the door to the bathroom (bath space?), my friend the giant spider sits on the wall.

And there he stays all night, quiet and watchful.

____________
Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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S Words in Bangkok

Small Streets